Maria Firmina dos Reis

Born: 11th October 1825

Died: 11th November 1917

Birth Place: Brazil

Known for: Abolitionist and author

Maria was especially known for her novel Úrsula.

She founded a school for poor children at the age of 55.

She wrote poetry and short stories, collaborating with local newspapers in her hometown to get her work published.

It is horrible to remember that human creatures treat their fellow men like this.

Maria Firmina dos Reis

Life story

Early Life and Teaching


Firmina dos Reis was a famous abolitionist and author. At the age of five she moved to Viamão where she attended school. Due to her outstanding academic performance, Firmina dos Reis won a scholarship to further her studies at the level of caderia de primeiras letras, which prepared her to be a teacher. She taught until her retirement in 1881. At the age of fifty-five, Maria founded a school for poor children.


Writing Career


Firmina dos Reis published her major novel Úrsula in 1859. The story centres around a girl with whom two men are in love, one a good person, the other the villain. Úrsula, the heroine of the book, defies expectations by falling for the villain and becoming a victim of his cruelty. Firmina dos Reis aimed to show through her characters that whenever women and enslaved people deviate from the patriarchal society, they are condemned.


Firmina dos Reis also wrote poetry and short stories, collaborating with local newspapers in her hometown. This was the only way she could get her work published.

Why was Úrsula such a significant piece of work? Give reasons for your answer. Why do you think the only way Maria could get published was through local newspapers? What does Maria’s diary tell us about her life?

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